Think of superstars buying unfashionable football clubs and Wrexham, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney probably come to mind. But in the years the Hollywood actor and the American TV star were born, 1976 and 1977, the original stardust story — courtesy of Sir Elton John — started at another UK team whose name begins with W.
What Deadpool and his pal are aiming to do in north Wales, the pop star and manager Graham Taylor did achieve in Watford, a commuter town just north west of London.
Watford’s incredible rise from the fourth tier of English football to the top flight took just five seasons. They then finished as runners-up to Liverpool in the club’s first elite-division season of 1982-83. A first taste of European football and an FA Cup final appearance followed the next year.
“I never got a penny back from my investment but that didn’t matter at all,” says Sir Elton in Watford Forever, a book being released on November 16. “It had enabled me to have the greatest adventure of my life.”Sir Elton’s 2019 biopic Rocketman and autobiography Me, from the same year, focused on his musical journey but this book, in collaboration with John Preston, devotes time to his other passion.
Watford’s remarkable ascent through the divisions is charted but there are also reflections on Sir Elton’s personal life: his troubled relationship with his father, his homosexuality and his drink and drug addictions. Sir Elton’s football club provided solace and excitement, and he says his relationship with Taylor ultimately saved his life.
One incident in the boardroom at Watford’s Vicarage Road ground, outlined in the book, explains how Taylor — who went on to manage England from 1990-93 and returned to the club for a second spell in charge towards the end of his career before dying in 2017 — intervened when concerned by Elton’s dishevelled appearance in the grip of an apparent binge.
“That’s what you have for breakfast, isn’t it?” said Taylor, slamming a bottle of brandy on the table. “What the f**k do you think you’re doing? You’re letting yourself down, and you’re letting the club down. If you ever turn up looking like this again, that’s f**king it as far as I’m concerned.”Sir Elton, who was knighted in 1998, says he sat there, feeling shamed. “It shook me to the core,” he recalls. “It was one of those moments when all the delusions that I’d surrounded myself with, all the lies I’d told myself, fell away. I was just left there, stunned and mortified.”
The Watford owner says he would have told anyone else “to f**k off” but couldn’t ignore Taylor because he “cared about me as a person” and felt “if I carried on the way I was going, then I was going to kill myself”. “That was what really shone through,” Sir Elton, now 76, adds. “Behind his anger, I could see that he really loved me.”
The effect of the episode was profound, putting the singer on the road to recovery. “It gave me the kickstart I needed,” says Sir Elton. “In effect, Graham saved my life; I’ve never had the slightest doubt about that.”
Brought up in nearby Pinner, Reginald Dwight — or Reggie, as Sir Elton was known then — was taken to Watford matches from age six by his father, Stanley. The singer recalls it was the only time his dad held his hand. When they got home from the games, any connection was lost.
“However successful I had become, I never lost that sense that he disapproved of me, that I’d done something wrong,” says Sir Elton. “In the end, it was just easier to stay away.”